Ramjas row: Is Delhi Police working on an image makeover by avoiding excesses in mob control?

Without attempting to build a case for the police personnel, one can safely say that the police in at least two cities of this country — Delhi and Mumbai — have a thankless job to do. The police must have to tread a tightrope in allowing a mob to protest within the parameters of democracy, and yet, know exactly when it needs to be controlled, and try to do so without earning flak from all quarters of the society.

In the ongoing Ramjas College ruckus at Delhi University, one noise that has not yet reached a high decibel is that of high-handed behaviour of Delhi Police with the protesting students.

 Ramjas row: Is Delhi Police working on an image makeover by avoiding excesses in mob control?

Protests at Ramjas College. News18

One slight murmur at the beginning of the fracas has already been dealt with by the police. At the onset of the crisis, several students and teachers were injured in clashes between the Left-affiliated All India Students’ Association (AISA) and the RSS-backed Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) at Ramjas College. Police said eight of its personnel, including an SHO, too sustained injuries.

However, following this, Joint Commissioner of Police, Devendra Pathak on Wednesday night admitted to “unprofessional conduct” on the part of police and said that an enquiry would be made into the incident, and strict action would be taken against those found guilty.

This is rather unusual for a police force that has not been known for decent behaviour in times of a crisis such as this.

All high-profile mass protests in the recent past have been marred by police high-handedness. Whether it was the unprecedented protest against the Nirbhaya gang rape incident, or the large-scale congregation of protesting people at India Gate and Ram Lila Maidan during the India Against Corruption movement, or the agitation of Delhi students in support of Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) against the appointment of Gajendra Chauhan as the institute's chairman, police earned brickbats for roughing up the protesting students.

The infamy of Delhi police apparently reached its nadir in 2016 during Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) students’ agitation, when cops thrashed student protesters on the streets of Delhi.

Several eye-witnesses of the incident from February last year said that though there was provocation, the police could have handled the situation better without unleashing brutality. It was widely reported that in the absence of women police officers, male cops assaulted girl students in broad daylight, for which Delhi Police had received severe criticism from various quarters.

But, how come the Ramjas College controversy has passed so far without any ramification of police excess?

Former Director General of Police, UP, Prakash Singh believes that the police seem to have learnt its lessons from the past.

“Police seem to have learnt its lesson from past incidents. This time the police have been doing a good job. It speaks about the leadership quality of present Delhi Police Commissioner Amulya Patnaik. Handling student agitation is a tough job as it is highly volatile and police have to be objective and fair in dealing with such cases; even more so when the government is directly involved,” he said.

Despite showing restraint and handling the Ramjas College episode with extreme care, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs, headed by former Union Minister P Chidambaram, questioned Patnaik on 28 February and asked the latter what action did the police take over the clashes outside the college and on the alleged rape threats to Gurmehar Kaur.

“The misfortune with police is that given the complexity of situation and despite doing a good job, they are at the receiving end, and are always criticized. This demoralizes police force,” added Singh, also the former Director General of Border Security Force, who has worked on police reforms in India.

A senior officer in Delhi Police added, “Police have been extremely cautious in handling the ongoing student agitation so that no negative message gets communicated. Government too doesn’t want any controversy in this episode.”

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Updated Date: Mar 02, 2017 17:09:20 IST